The Holiday Ale Festival Was Epic

Playing hooky on a work day is easily the best way to experience the Holiday Ale Festival. Lines were nonexistent, special taps were pouring rarities, and there was plenty of room to meander from place to place. I really liked the addition of the second tasting tent. Our group managed to grab a table up there early, which made it a nice place to camp out throughout the day. I was worried the stairs would get harder and harder to navigate as tastes piled up, but I didn't see anyone having problems.

I managed to get through everything on my list, save for the stuff that didn't show up. Of course, that meant I had room to try a couple other things, none of which impressed me as much as the following three beers.

Hair of the Dog Jim 2008 - This beer continues to astound and stupefy me. I don't know how Hair of the Dog does it, but they manage to make incredible beer that tastes unlike anything else on the market. This was big, sweet without being cloying, hoppy, and had a subtle spice finish. I don't think actual spices were used to produce it, but I'll be damned if it didn't finish like pumpkin pie.

Fort George Brewing North 2007 - A fantastic "multigrain wheat whine" that was a beautiful, deep red. The taste had this fleeting character that made it dangerously drinkable. I'd take sip, get overwhelmed with flavor and then it would end immediately with snappy, rye spiciness. I was constantly raising my glass, trying to get a handle on it.

Cascade Brewing Barrel-Select Baltic Porter - This one was a real genre bender. Imagine a baltic porter, aged in bourbon barrels and then slightly soured. It sounds like it shouldn't work but it wound up incredible. It was intensely woody with very big malt flavors. I enjoyed it much more than Sang Noir (which was good, but maybe a bit overboard).

There were a few disappointments, the largest being those no-shows I mentioned earlier. The keg of Vanilla Oatis from Ninkasi had somehow disappeared. I heard numerous stories from different pourers and the consensus seems to be that it was simply lost. The brewer claimed to have dropped it off, but it was nowhere to be found. I never asked about the Firestone Walker Parabola, but it never made an appearance either. At least, it didn't before I left around 6:30. Maybe there were problems with the keg like with the Hitachino Nest XH, which didn't appear until 3 or so? Whatever the case, those were two of my most anticipated beers and I was saddened that I didn't get to try them.

Of the beers I did try, I was a little let down by the Deschutes offerings. As a devout Deschutes fanboy, it pains me greatly to say this. Both beers they brought ('05 Mirror Mirror and Big Red Double Cinder Cone) didn't really rise to the spectacular levels everyone else was shooting for. They were certainly delicious and well made, but they suffered in comparison to the brave experiments other brewers had succeeded in pulling off.

Of course, not every experiment worked. I didn't particularly like Babushka's Secret, which was Widmer black raspberry imperial stout. It was very heavy on the fruit and chocolate, which wound up eclipsing the stout flavors rather than synergizing with them. It reminded me too much of candy. I also wasn't a fan of Lagunitas' Black Pepper Stout. Everyone at our table agreed there was too much pepper. Moreover, the pepper didn't come across as black, rather it tasted more along the lines of jalapeno. It was vegetal, thin bodied and just didn't work.

Overall though, it was a pleasant day filled with once-in-a-lifetime flavors. It remains my favorite local beer event.

Although I hope they turn the music down next year. Speakers were ubiquitous and I found myself shouting just to be heard everywhere I went.

Also, I hope that woman above doesn't mind being on my blog. I have no idea who she is, other than she was in front of me in line to get in.

Beau Burke
December 5, 2008, 1:44 pm
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